Thursday, March 01, 2007

Inside-Out Your Christianity!

Snow! Now I ask myself, "How can the Farmer's Almanac be right considering Al Gore's theory of global warming? Hmmm…" Awe, but that's enough of politics. Most of humanity will admit that life is more a spiritual journey than a political one for sure. Our inner being simply can't be satisfied with externals.

A challenge: compare Jesus, His life and teaching, with what we know of as present day Christianity. You will find that Jesus and "popular Christianity" often do not agree. Take what we call the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew's account of Jesus' life, in the fifth chapter. It was one of Jesus' earliest mass-meetings – maybe one of the most misunderstood and thus controversial. (I also dare you to compare Jesus' life and teaching to what life is like for those outside Christianity – that would only be fair treatment.)

Jesus began His sermon by saying, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:2) "Blessed" means happy, fortunate, free from daily worries and cares. Ha! Ever experienced that side of "blessed?" Rarely, if you're like me, that's because we're all trying to get the outside fixed up as a means to lasting happiness. Jesus said it goes the other way – real happiness comes from having our stuff together on the inside with God and real life change results.

From the beginning, Jesus taught that life is to be lived from the inside-out. Whatever 'is' bubbles up from the visceral and makes its way to the visible. Much of the church teaches the exact opposite today. Popular Christianity tends to present the idea that belief starts on the outside and makes its way to the heart. Either by action or by straight-up propaganda, it teaches that if we dress up the outside, good stuff will seep to the center. Sorry, gravity doesn't work that way. "Fake it 'til you make it" theology only works in Church. It begins to erode by the time most people hit the parking lot. True Christian spirituality works from the inside out. It starts almost imperceptibly and slowly builds toward a changed life – a journey that lies within. If I want a truly different life, I've got to allow God to start on the inside. My behavior, morals, and crappy attitudes will change as a result.

The term "spirit" references the intangible but very real part of the person. So the first thing required for an inside-out-life-worth-living is a broken heart! But, there is nothing more contrary to our natural way than to be working toward honest brokenness. Most of us would dearly love to refrain from anything that looks like brokenness because our version of that concept is weakness and lacking value or strength. Again, our thinking is ass-backwards.

The thief on the cross always reminds me that the path of deliverance is an inside work, spirit to Spirit, that makes its way out. The thief, the one who knew he deserved to die, affirmed that Jesus was undeserving of death, called Him Lord, and asked to go with Him to heaven. He had no time to clean up his messed up life or to repair the destruction caused by his lifetime crime spree. He had no time to join a church, no time to read the Bible, no time to develop a disciplined prayer life, no time to get into the media and tell outsiders that they suck. He didn't even have to time to find water and get baptized! Most of these things are good, but they will not, on their own, get one into the kingdom of God unless an inside work has begun by the Spirit of God in the human spirit. The thief only had time for belief and repentance which both take place on the inside. That's all it required for him to enter the kingdom of God. Jesus' own words were, "Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise." (Luke 23:43) That's the good news.

Christian spirituality is an inside-out faith. Popular Christianity is often presented as "outside-in." We have to "inside-out" our thinking to see this, but it's the truth according to Jesus. To whom do you think we ought to listen: the Person who started true Christianity or those who simply report on it from an American point of view?

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